Where will my child be?
Exploring the Arnold Arboretum! The Arboretum has a huge diversity of trees, shrubs, and habitats— countless opportunities to learn and explore. Children will be active participants in selecting which places within the Arboretum we visit each day, and how we explore them.
Opening up the world of outdoor exploration for children is what drives us! Our operational strategies, safety protocols, and consistent daily routines help us to provide safe and fun adventures for each child.
Are the children outside in all weather?
BOPN's philosophy has children learning outdoors regardless of weather. To keep our children warm and dry, we combine the right clothing with a play-based curriculum that keeps children moving while helping them to develop perseverance and empathy. When children are outside every day, their body-awareness and self-regulation skills develop quickly. We are well-equipped with extra clothing, hand and toe warmers, extra water, first aid kits, and all the necessities for each type of weather throughout the seasons.
We rely on parents/guardians to be active partners with us in preparing their child for the weather. Parents ensure that their child is dressed appropriately to spend three hours outside, including rain jacket, rain pants, wool socks, waterproof boots, mittens, hat, neck warmer, etc. Check out this video for an example of how to dress your child for rainy and cold days. If your family cannot afford high-quality outdoor gear, please let us know and we will provide it!
In rare instances of severe weather including thunderstorms, strong winds, and/or severe temperatures, we will cancel class. So far this winter we have only needed to cancel class one day, when Boston public schools was also closed for a snow day.
BOPN has two emergency shelters. So far, no class has ever needed our emergency shelters.
MassHort Education Building
Smith Farm location:
Is BOPN licensed?
Our half-day preschools are exempt (not licensed) at this time.
Our full-day toddler and preschool program at 11 Delford Street and our full-day program at MassHort must be licensed by the Department of Early Education and Care before we open.
What is the relationship between BOPN and the Arnold Arboretum?
BOPN aligns with the Arboretum's goal to foster greater understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of Earth’s botanical diversity. However, we want to be clear that BOPN and the Arboretum are separate organizations. The Arboretum is not involved with organizing or operating BOPN's programs in any way. BOPN always follows the Arboretum rules in order to preserve the health of the trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants. We leave no trace.
Is nature-play risky?
While it is true that children often do get hurt playing outdoors, the actual risk of serious injury is relatively small. The majority of injuries sustained include bumps, scrapes, and bruises.
The risks of nature play are minor compared to other dangers that children routinely face, but what about the benefits? Research has found a remarkable range of positive impacts from frequent, unstructured play in rich, diverse natural settings. These benefits cover the entire realm of holistic child development: physical, social, emotional, intellectual, creative, and spiritual.
The bottom line: children need risk. It is a powerful catalyst for growth that helps them develop good judgment, persistence, courage, resiliency, and self-confidence. Remove risk from children’s lives, and parts of their growth may stagnate. Kids learn their capabilities, their vulnerabilities, and good decision-making skills through real-life experiences – sometimes happy, sometimes harsh, but always instructive.
We manage risk by conducting regular safety inspections of the grounds, documenting any incidents, and maintaining accurate incident records.
How do you keep children safe?
We keep children safe in our outdoor classroom by:
Having a low teacher to child ratio of 1:6
Having children wear matching yellow safety-vests
Requiring that children stay in sight and sound of their teachers at all times
Careful attendance including frequent head-counts
Giving children clear expectations and physical boundaries (boundaries reinforced using auditory, tactile, and visual strategies)
Routine establishing that a teacher talks to an unfamiliar adult first
Allowing pickup by designated persons only
Using a pick-up and drop-off location that is safe
Certifying teachers in First Aid and CPR, and providing professional development
There are two port-a-potties located at the base of Peter's Hill and two near the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden.
At the port-a-potties:
Teachers disinfect them each morning before class
We wait outside to make sure no one else enters and to offer help if requested
We supervise hand-washing
We have spare clothes in case of accidents
There are bathrooms inside the Education Building, and we also use a travel-potty when needed.
Sara has been a teacher and administrator at public and private schools for over 20 years. She has a Masters Degree in Reading Education and Montessori certification. Before joining BOPN she taught first grade at Brimmer and May.
Shela has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education and is Director certified through the Department of Early Education and Care. In a 2018 assessment of Shela's teaching she was rated “exemplary” in all six categories: well-structured lessons, adjustments to practice, meeting diverse needs, safe learning environment, high expectations, and reflective practice. At that time, her preschool classroom included seven children with disabilities.
Sarah has a Masters Degrees in Early Childhood Education and Montessori certification. She has taught preschool and 5th grade boat building.
Emily is currently working toward her Masters Degree in Nature-based Early Childhood Education at Antioch College New England. Her background is in traditional and farm-based education.
Read more about the teachers on our Meet the Team page. We pride ourselves on our team of joyful and dedicated teachers!
Snack and lunch?
Half-day preschool programs:
Children carry a small snack in a pocket or in their backpack.
Lunch is not part of our program at this time. Please note that picknicking is prohibited at the Arboretum.
Full-day toddler and preschool program:
Children eat snack at the arboretum and lunch in the classroom.
During Covid the children are required to sit at least 6 feet apart while eating snack.
Will my child learn to read?
Early literacy begins with exposure to rich language experiences. At BOPN this is accomplished through read-alouds, storytelling, and singing. In addition, children are introduced to a wide vocabulary as they discuss their surroundings, experiments, and discoveries. Some of the ways we encourage literacy:
Singing songs in English, Haitian Creole, Spanish, or German, emphasizing rhyming, phonetics, and vocabulary
Using nonfiction texts to learn about the flora and fauna we see
Dictating our own stories
Guessing games involving names, pieces of language, and words
Modeling the use of reading and writing as tools used to accomplish children's own goals
At BOPN, we "talk local." Antioch professor David Sobel advocates for a language development process that is rich in the fabric of the natural world:
"It is important to build language from the 'here and now' to the 'long ago and far away'...[Our language should be] replete with the nouns of flora and fauna (phoebe, maple, chrysalis), the verbs of movement (bounding, slithering, cavorting), the adjectives of description (heart-shaped, lavender, glittery), the adverbs of modification (quietly, roughly, impatiently), and the prepositions of interaction (going around, through, or over this puddle)...In 2009, the Oxford Junior Dictionary cut nature terms such as heron, acorn, clover, ivy, willow, and blackberry, replacing them with more modern terms such as broadband and blog. When the lexicon starts to eliminate nature words and replace them with technology words, it's an indication that we are becoming more and more isolated from the natural world. Instead, if we root human language in natural systems, we shape a sense of the natural world as the real world, the ultimate source, rather than the man-made world." (citation)
Will my child learn math?
Math, as well as other STEM learning, happens organically in nature. As children collect leaves and stones, they practice shape identification, colors, sorting and grouping. Nature provides many opportunities to practice classifying and measuring, as well as comparisons such as heavy versus light, rough versus smooth, deciduous versus evergreen, and so-forth.
As children explore nature, they spontaneously engage in STEM experimentation as well. For example, examination of spiderwebs can be an opportunity to learn about geometry.
Some of the ways we build math skills:
- Creating collections of natural materials that showcase patterns and sizes
- Counting, within context (counting the number of children present, counting natural items)
- Using weights and measures, which emphasizes comparisons
- Sorting materials (How many leaves are green? How many of the nuts are acorns?)
- Songs with counting
Will my child be ready for elementary school?
Yes! More and more studies are showing that children who have participated in nature preschools are as academically proficient (if not more so) than their academic preschool counterparts by the end of their Kindergarten year. In addition, children who have participated in a nature preschool almost always score higher than their traditional preschool counterparts in the areas of critical thinking and problem solving.
Prior to joining BOPN, Sara M. taught first grade for many years at Brimmer and May. She is very familiar with what children need to be prepared for first grade. Feel free to email her at Sara.Murray@bopn.org
Will my child learn about respect?
Respect for self, each other, and the environment is at the heart of BOPN. We demonstrate respect through modeling appropriate behavior and helping children understand their choices and the implications. Children are taught how to be good stewards of nature.
How is discipline handled?
BOPN first seeks to minimize the need for excess discipline through the establishment of comfortable routines and clear behavioral expectations. When necessary, teachers employ the principles of conscious discipline, which inspire behavior changes from within the child, rather than imposed on them. We focus on strengthening relationships and clear expectations. In addition to working with the children, a strong and mutually respectful relationship with parents and caregivers is paramount for maintaining a positive learning environment.
We often refer families to Learning Seeds when a child needs additional support with social-emotional skills: https://www.playgroundwhisperer.com/home If the cost of hiring a specialist is prohibitive, we are happy to decrease or eliminate tuition so that your child can recieve the services they need while continuing to attend our program.
For more information, please email Sara.Murray@bopn.org. Sara also leads an annual parent education night called "Guiding Behavior the BOPN Way."
What are the benefits of mixed-age programs?
The children in our classes range in age from 2.9 through 6 years old. A key component of multi-age programs is children teaching children. The younger children often follow the lead of the older children, using new language, practicing new routines, and challenging themselves to try new skills. The older children are provided with the opportunity to gain leadership skills and practice explaining, teaching, caring and sharing.
For more information, please click here for an article by Peter Gray: "The Special Value of Children's Age-Mixed Play." BOPN staff recently read and discussed Gray's book Free to Learn. Please let us know if you'd like to borrow a copy.
How will you assess my child’s development?
BOPN uses the seven standards from the book Lens on Outdoor Learning to record your child’s progress and assess their areas of strength and future goals (click here for more details). We communicate with families on a weekly basis regarding program activities, and in a more structured way at scheduled parent-teacher conferences.
May I come for a visit?
YES! We encourage you to visit! Please fill out our interest form to schedule a visit.
May I volunteer? May I donate supplies?
Yes! Please email Sarah.Besse@bopn.org
Do you offer kindergarten?
YES! Our half-day preschool and full-day programs include the kindergarten year.
Does BOPN have indoor facilities?
Which BOPN program is right for my family?
If you live near Natick, Dover, Sherborn, Wellesley, or Chestnut Hill, please apply to our half-day and/or full-day program at Massachusetts Horticultural Society.
Do you require children to be vaccinated?
YES. Proof of vaccinations is required to enroll in our program. Religious exemptions are not accepted.